I’ve been sitting here this morning watching a Dr. Phil. An old one, a rerun from 2014. I don’t usually watch this show or other talk shows because generally they bore me or there’s too much drama. (A reason I don’t tend to watch reality shows, too). So the basic premise of the show is that a wife is sure her husband is cheating and he’s swearing he’s not and they fight about it a lot. She goes to great lengths to discover proof and get him to admit it, and there is a lot of fighting, including physical fighting. And there are kids in the house.

Okay, so that’s the background. My response to all this is–why the hell are you still together? Why not just walk away?

That got me to thinking about winning. I get the impression that this is all about winning. And as usual, the definition of winning is questionable. For me, winning would be no longer living a horrid life and getting my children into a safe, happy home. But for them, winning seems to be about getting the other to admit their ‘crimes.’ But then I wonder, what if they do get admission? What then? I don’t get the impression that would be enough to end it. Is it making the other person ‘pay’ for what they’ve done? Grovel? What would winning *really* look like?

I was thinking, if they did walk away, then would they think that the other one got off too easily? That both would win because they are both happier and better off? And so they’d rather suffer than let the other person get to be happy?

The reason I’m still watching the show after 45 minutes and listening to these super obnoxious people, is because they aren’t extraordinary people. They could be anybody on my block. And that makes me think about them as characters. I’m a writer; this is what I do. I have a hard time wrapping my head around people that would behave this way, so it’s interesting to watch them and try to figure out how to write them believably, and why I would include people like them in a novel.

I was also thinking how this would apply in political situations (from job politics to actual politics), to friendships, and so on. That element  that you’d rather suffer horribly than let the other person off the hook/win. I also read this morning a quote by Haruki Murakami and it’s tremendously appropriate: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” In the case of not letting the other person win at the price of your own happiness, I think that’s choosing suffering, even if you have some element of triumph.

I think also that people dig in because they’ve already suffered so much, it’s too much to take to know that they could have walked away at any point and not suffered. On top of that, they have to make it worthwhile. They have to see something come out of the situation, some win, even if it’s a Pyrrhic victory.

As a writer, the hardest part of writing characters like this is making it believable. Truth is really no excuse for fiction. Truth can be bizarre and make little sense, but fiction has to make sense and be believable. I have to dig into figuring out the mindset and making it real for myself.



Winning? — 8 Comments

  1. I’m trying to write characters (or a character, anyway) who wins by redefining victory. If you make the enemy your friend, it’s not a war any more.

    As to the divorce thing, however: in what period was this work set? There were times when it was not possible to leave your husband; he kept everything and you were homeless.

      • Even now leaving a marriage can be financially very difficult, especially if you don’t have particularly good credit on your own. I don’t dispute that the desire to win can be / is at least sometimes a factor, but getting out of a marriage, unless both parties want to leave and are committed to co-operating on the divorce (and sometimes even then) can be exceptionally difficult.

  2. I was once in a situation (not marital, but otherwise familial in nature) where “winning” became almost an uncontrollable impulse for the other person, like a muscle spasm. They had to be right; they had to put me in my place—exact vengeance for perceived past wrongs; they had to have the last word. So I let them have it.

    Walking away was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but my survival was at stake (mentally and physically). Overall, I chose to be happy (well, a difficult happiness, but better than none), not right. But I was just thinking about this the other day: they got everything they wanted, and then what? What happens when you give someone the last word?

    At the time, I was acting out of self-preservation, but maybe part of me was twisting my own, small knife: sometimes giving people what they want is actually the best revenge.

    • It’s funny. Sometimes when I think about situations where there was no ‘winning’ for me so I walked away, it burns a little that I couldn’t win. It’s an emotional thing that makes no sense, really.

      I really like you Zena. You’re awesome.